04/06/2011 12:46PM

Ashland at Keeneland ripe for Ward's taking with Dancinginherdreams

Barbara D. Livingston
The 3-year-old filly Dancinginherdreams will try to give Lexington native John Ward Jr. his first Grade 1 win at Keeneland in the Ashland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – John T. Ward Jr. grew up just outside the back stable gate at Keeneland and became a local legend by training horses to win a number of major races, most notably the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos.

And yet his photograph is missing from the walls of the Keeneland track kitchen.

“Haven’t won a Grade 1 here, and that’s what they say you need to do to get your picture up there,” said an amused Ward.

Look it up: Ward has won six stakes at his home track, but the biggest was the Breeders’ Futurity with Sky Mesa in 2002 – when it was still a Grade 2 and not a Grade 1, as it is now.

Ward sees an excellent chance to nab that elusive Grade 1 on Saturday, when he will send out Dancinginherdreams for longtime client John Oxley in the 74th running of the $400,000 Ashland Stakes. Kathmanblu (post 6) is likely to be favored, with Dancinginherdreams (post 5) the second choice in the Ashland, a 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race that drew nine 3-year-old fillies when entries were drawn Wednesday.

“Here’s our opportunity,” said Ward, 65. “It’s been our plan to stretch her out to two turns in this race, and obviously it’ll be a very important step toward the Kentucky Oaks,” to be run May 6. “Going long is what we’ve always felt she wants to do, and this would be a nice time to prove that.”

Dancinginherdreams, a distinctive-looking gray filly, was spectacular in starting her career with two romping wins in Kentucky last fall, an October maiden sprint at Keeneland and the Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs. Her winter campaign at Gulfstream Park was less successful: runner-up finishes as the favorite in the Forward Gal and Davona Dale, both of them one-turn races, and both when conceding weight to the winner while having wide trips.

Ward said Dancinginherdreams, who shipped recently from south Florida to train at Churchill, “is a little bit on the light side. I’d hoped she would’ve developed a little more through the winter, but she did have a couple of tough races. She did all her serious work in Florida, and we’ll just lead her over there Saturday hoping for the best.”

The Ashland is carded as the ninth of 10 Saturday races, with post time set for 5:23 p.m. Eastern.